Engaging rural Colorado middle and high school students, teachers, and communities to take proactive steps in preparing for and responding to natural hazards.

Environmental hazards—such as wildfire, flood, and drought—are increasingly affecting communities in Colorado. With this rise in hazardous events, there is a pressing need for communities to become more resilient through education, preparation, and planning.

The Hazard Education, Awareness, and Resilience Task Force (HEART Force) is a collaborative project implemented by the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) partner Western Water Assessment.

Interested? Please contact our team at: ciresoutreach@colorado.edu

The Program

HEART Force is in the second year (Y2) of implementation, and is currently working in 5 school districts to pilot curriculum. We are also working with the Colorado Resilience Office and the Department of Local Affairs to connect teachers and classrooms to ongoing resilience efforts in rural areas. The figure below shows the areas we have been working in and plan to work in.

Heart Force Locations


The Curriculum

The flexible, three-part curriculum is designed for middle and high school science classrooms, but can be adapted for Agriculture, STEM, or Civics classroom. Lessons are designed to meet NGSS and 2020 CDE Science Standards. 

We encourage teachers to choose one hazard to focus on (wildfire, flood, or drought), and pick the parts that suit your classroom—from a week introduction to the hazard to a multi-week, integrated project. Most materials are editable Google docs which can be used as-is or customized for the way you want to use them. 

The curriculum consists of three parts: 

  • Hazard Lessons use case studies and authentic data to learn about the causes, frequency, impacts and responses to natural hazards. They use what they’ve learned to create a local news story to educate their community about the hazard.

  • Scenario-Based Role-Play Games are place-based and hazard specific, and have students assume the role of community members tasked with responding to a natural hazard as it occurs in their hometown. 

  • A Community Resilience Expo is a project-based learning component, that challenges students to come up with strategies to increase resilience in their community, which they then present to their community in a public forum. 

Explore the Unit Overview, and the Example Instructional Calendars to develop a lesson progression that works best for you.

For Teachers

We invite you to use the HEART Force Curriculum in your classroom! If you would like to participate in HEART Force programming, we offer several opportunities: 

  • Teacher professional development workshops Currently, we are planning to offer a 1-credit workshop in partnership with the Western Colorado University Summer Teacher Institute, June 15-16. This workshop is open to all secondary science teachers. Additionally, if you are in a rural district and have several teachers who would be interested in taking a workshop, contact us directly to discuss hosting a workshop in your area. 

  • Support with the Community Resilience Expo CIRES staff can offer help with finding guest speakers, brainstorming ideas for resilience strategies, logistics and planning for an expo, and offer funding for students to implement their resilience strategies. 

  • A network of teachers around the state Learn about what other teachers are doing, and get tips on what works and what doesn’t work. 

The program does have a research and evaluation component, so we ask that all teachers participating in HEART Force programming complete teacher surveys, and have their students complete pre- and post-surveys as well. Our team will work with your district to make sure data collection is approved. 

Our Partners


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NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) - Western Water Assessment


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NOAA National Weather Service


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NOAA FireX Program


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NOAA Global Monitoring Division


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NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System


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NOAA National Integrated Heat Health System


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NOAA Science-on-a-Sphere



Rob Pressly, Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office at Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs

Taryn Finnessey, Senior Climate Change Specialist at the State of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources

Patricia Gavelda, Colorado State and Local Mitigation Program Planning Manager at Colorado’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Greg Guibert, Boulder’s chief resilience officer, who is part of the 100 resilient cities and has many regional, state-wide, national and international connections with resilience efforts. 

Juliette Rooney-Varga, PhD, Director Climate Change Initiative Boulder Emergency Service

 Frank Niepold, NOAA climate program office 

Jen Kretser, Wild Center

Lesley Smith, Foothills United Ways 

Beth Barthel, UNAVCO

Partner communities [to date, additional community partners welcome]: 
Boulder County
City of Longmont
Larimer County
Jefferson County
Gunnison County
Garfield County 

School partners [to date, additional school partners welcome]:
Westview Middle School, Longmont
Estes Park High School, Estes Park
The Early College of Arvada, Arvada

Keep up to date on opportunities and news from CIRES Education & Outreach